What do you do when water is not enough to rehydrate?
Words: Zoe Wilson Image: Matt Staggs
Riding during the warmer months means you’re going to find yourself sweating more and more. While water should be the first choice for hydration for most of us, there are times when water is not enough.
When you ride, you sweat, and when you sweat you lose fluids, but also electrolytes such as sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Dehydration can ruin an otherwise solid ride. Studies have shown that even a 1-2% reduction in body weight through fluid loss can increase perceived exertion. In other words – even being a little dehydrated can make your ride feel harder and reduce your performance. Hydration is also essential for recovery after a ride making it even more important if you want to be able to back up and train the next day.
The picture gets a little more complicated when we start to look at the electrolytes in the equation, and not just fluid. Your body needs electrolytes in the correct concentrations to help maintain fluid balance, muscle contraction and neural activity – all essential for you to be able to perform basic daily functions, let alone ride at your best. Replacing electrolytes (particularly sodium or salt) also helps hydration by driving the thirst mechanism, while also increasing fluid absorption and retention. So, in order to ride strong all summer, it's essential you replace the fluid and electrolytes you lose each day.
Do you finish a ride with salty patches all over your clothes or crusty salty bits in your eyebrows? Do you struggle to rehydrate after sessions? If so, you might be a salty sweater, meaning you lose more electrolytes (sodium, aka salt) in your sweat than average. Individual physiology dictates how much sodium and electrolytes are lost when our body produces energy and sweats to cool down. If you think you might be a salty sweater, consider getting a hydration and sweat test done, with your Sports Dietitian.
When is water not enough?
The answer to this question depends on the duration and intensity of the session as well as the temperature and your individual sweat rate.
Before a ride,if you are a salty sweater then you may need to consider drinking an electrolyte beverage or having a salty snack prior to a heavy workout, a long ride (more than 60 – 90 minutes) or if it’s a very hot day.
During a long ride(more than 90 minutes) or intense ride, sports drinks containing sodium and carbohydrates are ideal. If you’d prefer to eat your fuel, rather than drink it, you might like to try an electrolyte tablet or powder that is free from carbohydrate (I like High 5 Zero or Nuun, but there are plenty on the market). You could also try alternating water and sports drink to reduce the amount of carbohydrate you drink so you can eat instead. It will take a while to hone your hydration plan – the key is to practice and to try lots of products until you find what works for you.
After a ride,replacing electrolytes as well as fluid is crucial to the recovery process. Ideally you want to drink around 1.5 times the amount of weight you lost during the session. This means if you lost 1kg during your ride, you need to drink around 1.5L of fluid to rehydrate. It is easier to retain water in the body when you have some salt at the same time (google: osmolality!), so eating food that has some salt as part of your recovery meal or drinking a recovery-specific sports drink can help you rehydrate faster than by drinking water alone.
When should I just stick to water?
If your session is less than an hour or so, it’s unlikely you’ll need any more than water unless it’s a really hot day or a really intense ride. During the day, water should be your first choice too – there is no need to go around chewing on salt tablets!
Tips for rehydrating well
If you have a long, hot or particularly hard ride on the cards (especially if you are a salty sweater), try these quick and easy tips to top up your fluids and electrolytes.
- Add electrolytes to your water during long, hot or intense sessions (tablets or powdered mixes are easy ways to do this).
- Make fruity smoothies part of your post ride recovery plan.
- Sprinkle some extra salt into your cooking.
- Choose snacks like pretzels, vegemite on toast or salted nuts on days when you’ve had a hard ride.
- Ensure you have a drink bottle with you at all times during the day.